FARGO — North Dakota now has the ability to unlock the $8.4 billion Legacy Fund to invest in projects that will grow and diversify the state’s economy, which is perennially reliant on agriculture and energy.
Thanks to legislative action in the recently completed session, the state has an unprecedented opportunity to use its sovereign wealth fund to make bold, strategic investments that will create a better economic future for residents.
The oil and gas wealth that fuels the fund comes from finite resources, but if we invest wisely we can create self-sustaining opportunities for the state and alter its trajectory for the better.
The proposed Buffalo City theme park in Jamestown can do just that.
It’s a bold idea to take unused state land near Interstate 94, with the towering “world’s largest buffalo” statue as a beacon, and transform it into an attraction that will draw hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
The theme park proposal is an outgrowth, in fact, of the buffalo statue and adjacent Frontier Village. Both attractions are more than 60 years old, well past their prime and no longer have the ability to lure visitors.
The 30-acre Buffalo City theme park would solve that problem by creating appealing, family-oriented attractions — the type that will get cars streaming along I-94 to pull off the freeway so the kids can have some fun and burn off some energy.
The theme park is designed to be entertaining and educational. Plans call for a bison discovery center, a children’s corral play area, an amphitheater, tramway, zipline, light shows, multimedia presentations, live entertainment, buffalo safari rides, a buffalo barbecue restaurant similar to Ted’s Montana Grill, a Tatanka Lodge with 150 to 250 keys.
At the center of the park is the iconic buffalo, the national mammal and a majestic symbol of the American West, with which the nation holds a continuing fascination. North Dakota is ideally suited to tell that story.
North Dakota, in fact, was the venue of key locations in the buffalo saga, including Fort Union, from which thousands of robes were shipped down the Missouri River; Pembina, the center of the Métis buffalo trade; the scene of what are remembered as the Last Great Hunts near Hettinger, which involved the Standing Rock Sioux.
Lewis and Clark encountered immense herds of buffalo during their exploration of North Dakota. Sitting Bull, who clung to the life of the chase, made North Dakota his home. Lt. Col. George Custer, stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln, was here to protect railroad crews as they crossed Lakota buffalo country. Theodore Roosevelt famously came to Dakota Territory to hunt buffalo.
That’s a story well worth telling, and one that people are eager to learn more about. We already have a foot in that door with the location of the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown, which would triple in size as part of the Buffalo City Park.
North Dakota can harvest that story and turn I-94 into a major tourism corridor, complementing efforts including the future Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Medora. The Buffalo City Park project would increase North Dakota’s economy by $61.6 million and boost economic output by $37.7 million, according to a study by Apogee Attractions, a consultancy advising the initiative.
It would create 361 direct jobs and 517 indirect jobs, resulting in $20 million in wages. Those numbers are “very conservative,” according to Bob McTyre, a founding partner of Apogee Attractions who formerly worked with Disney and produced Broadway productions including Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Together, the city of Jamestown and Stutsman County will spend $600,000 to pay for an independent financial analysis by Eide Bailly as well as engineering studies and architectural designs.
Armed with that information, Buffalo City Park proponents will make their pitch for a $60 million investment from the State Investment Board, which oversees the Legacy Fund.
It’s a bold idea, but absolutely viable. We shouldn’t squander this opportunity to create a world-class attraction that will benefit the state. This is your chance to Be Legendary, North Dakota.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.